FROM K. BRUCE
Catharsis is an experience we long for regularly, without even knowing it. We want our hearts to ache their trouble out and our tears to exfoliate our skin and make us feel new again, or at least different. There isn’t much that does that for me outside of emotional vulnerability, but singer-songwriter Mal Blum has teamed up with electric guitarist Audrey Zee Whitesides, bass player Barrett Lindgren and drummer Ricardo Lagomisino to twist their own vulnerability into something fun, punk and unapologetic.
In their new album “Pity Boy,” a subtle pun on the phrase “pretty boy,” Blum keens out tales of their past cyclic relationships and not-quite-past bad habits in a way that provokes listeners to do the same. This unique piece of punk is self-reflective and high-energy. Its composition leaves no string untouched, be it of heart or guitar, and all the tracks on the album build a blatant skin-shedding atmosphere with electric strumming and thundering drum lines.
“Not My Job” is a catchy rise-and-fall track that uses bass as a poignant root while letting off steam with guttural, elating guitar. All the while, Blum sings a spirited chorus: “If I have to, I’ll kill off my better self/I promise you that I will/I promise you that I will.” In their words, you can feel their anger and the ache of emotional healing like it’s your own — maybe because it is. Blum has incredible talent in fleshing out those ineffable feelings we all know but never really share or even articulate to ourselves.
Indeed, their unquestionable empathy shows through again in “Salt Flats,” a melancholy yet bravely hopeful song that calls attention to how we sometimes welcome toxicity into our lives, or at least allow it to stay. The track starts off with deep, twangy guitar, then segues into soft, heartsick vocals. The bass, electric guitar and drums all join in, adding the kind of soul-wrenching depth to the song you might feel after reading your favorite poem or finishing the last season of a treasured TV show.
Other tracks on the album such as “Black Coffee” and “Odds” maintain the self-deprecating humor and quirky wistfulness present in Blum’s early music, which includes “You Look a Lot Like Me” and “Every Time You Go Somewhere.” Meanwhile, songs “Did You Get What You Wanted,” “Things Still Left to Say,” and “I Don’t Want To” epitomize the resilient punk attitude “Pity Boy” is so successful in creating.
Overall, “Pity Boy” is successful in establishing distinctively powerful, gingerly hopeful anthems for anyone going through growing pains. It’s worth noting that LGBTQ people might specifically find a home in Blum’s music as they and other members of the band are transgender, adding a whole other layer of earnesty to Blum’s skillfully crafted music.